Gate1travel - 9 Day Golden Triangle of India
This was my fourth and last time traveling with Gate 1 Travel. Since the age of 17 (in 2008), I traveled with Gate 1 Travel to South Africa and Swaziland, Brazil and Argentina, Peru, and India. When I turned 20 years old (in 2011), I started exploring the world on my own – without a guided group tour. I was able to visit the same countries and the same attractions as advertised on Gate 1 Travel, but for much less. On a mission to visit every country in the world, finding the best deal is most important to me. Gate 1 Travel does not offer the best prices for airfare or hotels. After being able to score better deals, I dumped group travel all together. During this time, my parents traveled with Gate 1 Travel to Ecuador and Vietnam. It was time for another family vacation, and my mother was most interested in India. Chicago is a long way away from India, so we decided to also visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives while in the area. Given my laziness during this vacation planning process, I decided to book the 9 Day Golden Triangle of India tour with Gate 1 Travel and then continue on to Sri Lanka and the Maldives on our own. One of the benefits of organized travel is that planning a trip is as easy as clicking the “confirm” button on the webpage. It does not take a lot of time or thought.
When it comes to airfare, book your own. Gate 1 Travel offers “Air & Land” packages. However, a simple Google Flight Search (which uses ITA software), will result in cheaper flights than offered by Gate 1 Travel. The “Land Only” packages do not allow for deviation from the organized hotel options. Outside of group travel, you can find hotels for much less than advertised on Gate 1 Travel. Our schedule allowed for 6 days in India, which would mean we had to leave the tour early. Although we were not staying at the last hotel in the itinerary, we still had to pay for it. Aggravating, but understandable – Gate 1 Travel tours are booked as packages after all.
My mother, brother, and I arrived in India knowing what to expect. I booked our own transportation from Indira Gandhi International Airport to The Park hotel in New Delhi, since I wanted to pay less than Gate 1 Travel advertised. Transportation is widely available at the airport. We arrived at the hotel on Day 3 of the tour around 01:00 in the morning. Days 1 and 2 on the itinerary are counted as travel days. The tour began on Day 3 with an Old and New Delhi City Tour. India is a third world country; and that is something you need to keep in mind while traveling. I had the opportunity to travel to some of the richest cities in the world as well as to some of the poorest.
Breakfast at The Park hotel was exceptional. Then again, I had just returned from a month long overland trip through East Africa. After breakfast, we met our guide and were escorted to the bus. I am not sure when Gate 1 Travel started mandating a seating chart for the bus, but none of the tours I completed with the company ever enforced a seating chart. During the trip I was told what to do, when to do it, and where to sit. The last time I had to sit according to a seating chart was in middle school. I understand the reasons why Gate 1 Travel thought it was a good idea to implement a seating chart, but the way it was executed could not work. According to the seating chart, my family would have never seen the front of the bus, completely defeating the purpose of a rotating seating chart. Susceptible to motion sickness, I needed to sit in the front of the bus, especially given the distance we were driving on this tour. I communicated my concern to the guide before boarding the bus and she simply told me there is nothing that she can do. [Insert curse word]. She would not even accommodate me with a medical problem. Absolutely ridiculous. Later on in the day, a passenger got sick on the bus and needed to immediately use a bathroom – it was an emergency. The guide stated the driver could stop in 15 to 20 minutes. Please tell me how an emergency is supposed to wait? Mind you, there was a bathroom on the bus that was supposed to be accessible for emergencies.
We spent two nights at The Park hotel in New Delhi. Day 4 included a long bus ride from New Delhi to Jaipur. We were leaving New Delhi early, so we had to wake up early for breakfast. We get to the breakfast area and it is closed. Turns out, the guide provided the group with the wrong time for breakfast the night before. About half of the Gate 1 Travel group was waiting in front of the “closed” sign, aggravated and complaining. When the hotel staff finally reached the guide, she apologized and blamed hotel management for the miscommunication. You would think the guide would have the integrity to take responsibility for the mistake and not blame someone else for incorrectly providing information to 20 plus people.
We spent a lot of time on the bus. The distance between New Delhi and Jaipur and Jaipur and Agra called for two travel days (Days 4 and 6). Aside from the unreasonable seating chart, the bus was comfortable. The seats reclined and were kept clean. These long bus rides allowed for plenty of time to learn about India. During the bus rides, we were given the opportunity to learn about our guide. Correction: during the bus rides, we learned every personal detail and story about our guide – so much for learning about India. At least now, I can share personal stories about someone else’s life when I am asked about the trip. I cannot speak to facts about India, but at least now, I can tell you about arranged marriages and wedding planning. Please excuse the sarcasm. As a guide, I believe it is important to be personable. You want your customers to feel comfortable and to be able to relate. I enjoyed listening to stories first-hand, but at the end of the day, I traveled to India to learn about the country. The magnitude of personal information shared was a bit annoying. Towards the end of the trip, a passenger interrupted “story telling time”, and only then did the guide realize it was overwhelming.
The itinerary. The itinerary for Gate 1 Travel tours cover all the main tourist attractions. Given the large amount of attractions and limited time, the tour disclaimer warned of the fast pace. On a mission to see the world, my travel-style is often fast paced. I had no problem with the pace of the tour. I understand why some passengers voiced their negative opinions regarding the pace, but I knew what to expect. I booked the optional tours on Days 5, and 7 to fill up our free time. Additionally, outside of the organized and optional tours, we ventured off on our own to explore some more. The two optional dinners: Dinner at Local Jaipur Restaurant with Traditional Folk Dance and Dinner at Local Agra Restaurant with Bollywood Dance were very disappointing. At both dinners, we were seated in a room and provided with bland Indian dishes while watching a dancer perform. The food was horrible and the dancers looked anything but excited to be there.
The food. I love Indian food. And, I love spicy food. By spicy, I do not mean “white girl” spicy, I mean real spicy. Everything prepared for Gate 1 Travel was bland. I was looking forward to eating real Indian food in India. Instead, the meals included in the itinerary were Americanized dishes. Where were the spices that India is famous for? I brought this up to the guide. She suggested that at each restaurant she would speak to the chef to customize and prepare my dish separate from the group. I was thankful that a solution was proposed; however, the curries and chutneys prepared separately arrived at the table after I finished eating at each restaurant. Disappointing.
In Jaipur, we stayed at the Ramada Jaipur and in Agra at the Trident Agra Hotel. As a businesswoman and travel writer, my work follows me outside of the country. For the price that Gate 1 Travel customers overpay for hotels, Gate 1 Travel should select hotels that offer free Wi-Fi. It is no secret that people are obsessed with technology and communication, so it should be no surprise that everyone complained about not having free Wi-Fi.
Other things that annoyed me: the guide insisted on a “bus bazaar” at almost every tourist attraction. Not only did this take up time, but also we were all capable of buying our own souvenirs. Additionally, during the trip, the guide invited a young boy onto the bus to perform a magic trick. Placing customers on vacation in the position to give away their money is ludicrous. Obviously, we are a bus full of fortunate people that will give up our money out of guilt. The bus also stopped on the side of the road to watch a monkey do a trick. Afterwards, the guide stated that we should tip because these performers do not entertain for free. I did not support the performers the guide brought onto the bus or stopped for, because if people keep supporting this, the guide will continue forcing passengers to pay money to people she deems deserving.
Furthermore, the following is something that has aggravated me on all Gate 1 Travel tours – I think it is absurd that Gate 1 Travel takes their passengers to factories that end in time consuming and overpriced shopping opportunities. For instance, we stopped at a marble factory. Inside, we had the opportunity to witness a staged setting of laborers working on a marble piece. Yes, watching the workers manually create a craft was interesting; however, the sole purpose of Gate 1 Travel taking us here was to make commission off anything purchased. These factories that we stopped at (marble, carpet, textile), up charged every sale item. Most of these ignorant travelers will buy something; and then, Gate 1 Travel wins. My family and some other travelers refused to go inside the shops that Gate 1 Travel brought us to. Not only is it a complete waste of time, but you can buy any of these items outside the factory for much less.
Day 8 called for a bus ride from Agra to New Delhi-Gurgaon. Prior to arriving in India, I arranged for a private transfer back to Indira Gandhi International Airport since we had a flight to Sri Lanka that evening. The driver (not associated with Gate 1 Travel) arrived on time and took us back to Delhi. During the drive, I concluded that this would be my last time traveling with Gate 1 Travel.
Organized travel has its benefits: it is easy and does not require much thought; everything is planned for you. However, everything is planned for you. If you enjoy having everything planned for you – what to do, when to do it, and even where to sit – Gate 1 Travel is the company for you. Organized travel includes a guide. Guides can be informative and helpful or they can be rude and give off a negative tone and attitude. Unfortunately, it is a gamble, and we did not get lucky this time. Organized travel offers comfort. You stay at familiar hotels and eat familiar foods. If you do not like to get out of your comfort zone, stay at Americanized hotels and eat Americanized food , while overpaying for airfare, hotels, and activities – Gate 1 Travel tours are for you. Organized tours are not for everybody. This trip was a reminder of why I plan my own travels.
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